To read this content please select one of the options below:

Listening and learning from the COVID-19 frontline in one US healthcare system

Denise M. Cumberland (College of Education and Human Development, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
Andrea D. Ellinger (Soules College of Business, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, Texas, USA)
Tyra G. Deckard (College of Education and Human Development, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)

International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 20 December 2021

Issue publication date: 9 May 2022




The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted healthcare systems worldwide. Understanding the perspectives and insights of frontline healthcare workers caring for and interacting with patients with COVID-19 represents a timely, topical, and important area of research. The purpose of this qualitative action research study was to assist one US healthcare system that has an expansive footprint with the implementation of a needs assessment among its frontline healthcare workers. The leadership within this healthcare system wanted to obtain a deeper understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting the personal and professional lives of its workers. Further, the organisation wanted to solicit employees’ feedback about what they needed, understand the issues they were facing, and solicit their ideas to help the organisation know where to take action.


This qualitative research employed 45 focus groups, referred to as virtual listening calls (LCs) in this organisation, which were held over a four-week period. A total of 241 nursing staff, representing healthcare facilities across the country, attended 26 of the LCs. A total of 19 LCs were held with 116 healthcare workers who are employed in other clinical roles (e.g. therapists) or administrative functions.


Extending beyond the available research at the time, this study was initiated from within a US healthcare system and informed by the frontline healthcare employees who participated in the LCs, the findings of this study include the perspectives of both nursing and other healthcare workers, the latter of which have not received considerable attention. The findings underscore that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the personal and professional lives of all of these healthcare workers and has exacted an emotional toll as noted in other studies. However, this study also highlights the importance of listening to employees’ concerns, but more importantly, their recommendations for improving their experiences. Notably, the organisation is in the midst of making changes to address these frontline workers’ needs.


The study, inclusive of nursing and other healthcare staff, demonstrates how an organisation can adapt to a crisis by listening and learning from its frontline employees.



The authors would like to extend our sincere thanks to the healthcare organization and its leaders and employees who participated in this study. The authors would also like to convey our gratitude to the editorial team and anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback during the review process.


Cumberland, D.M., Ellinger, A.D. and Deckard, T.G. (2022), "Listening and learning from the COVID-19 frontline in one US healthcare system", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 410-426.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles